We’re here! After 40 grueling hours of travel, we spotted Helen’s bright, smiling face as we exited the Blantyre airport and breathed a sigh of relief. We were finally in Malawi.
I’m sure a lot of people are wondering where the team is staying and why we chose Zomba, instead of another region in Malawi, to work on the project. Like many business origin stories, it all came down to knowing the right connections.
Back in 2009 when we were in our class at Berkeley and finalizing the business plan, we reached out to a plethora of organizations that were on the ground in Malawi. We wanted to learn about their programs, the challenges they were facing, and what they thought of our idea. One of the first organizations to reciprocate interest and lend its support was Emmanuel International (EI).
I arranged a Skype call (this was pre Google Hangouts, mind you) with a man named Alan in their main office in Canada. He asked me to send him a copy of our proposal and forwarded it to their contacts in Malawi which led to the fortutitous meeting between Bamboo Lota and Helen and Paul. Helen and Paul are missionaries and have lived in Malawi for the last 25 years, working on projects ranging from agriculture training, food assitance, clean water, and more. And while religion is what drives them, their day to day work is very much centered around bettering the standard of living and sustainability for the communities around them. And back in 2009 when we mentioned that we wanted to make a trip out to Malawi to conduct a feasibility study, they not only offered to host Stephanie and Kyson, but also opened up the network of contacts they had developed over the last 20+ years. They arranged meetings with everyone from the charcoal producers in the villages to government officials to forestry experts at the University of Malawi which is located right here in Zomba.
I’ve exchanged so many emails with Helen over the years and I was so excited to finally meet her in person. Helen and Paul are hosting the Bamboo Lota team once again and allowing us to use their infrastructure as well (yay for Internet access!) in a region where these services are not always readily available. This time around we plan to spend some time giving back and lending our technical skills as needed in addition to the other project tasks we hope to complete during this trip.